The Reel of the 51st (Highland) Division
Danced at the Portadown Scottish Country Dance Group summer party 2008
How did a dance first performed in a German prison camp during World War II become so popular?
Lt. "Jimmy" Atkinson was serving with the 51st (Highland) Division (7th Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders) in France when he was captured in June 1940 and found himself in Oflag VIIC at Laufen Castle, near Saltzburg. Lt. Atkinson, by way of diversion, focussed on remembering the Scottish Country dances of his youth and he decided to write a new one. Only one problem - No music! In the camp were other Scottish dancers who assisted with devising the steps and soon a dance was ready - as well as a new dance group - The Laufen Reel Club.
For almost 5 years the club met three times a week on the top floor of the prison hospital block, the dance going with prisoners who were moved to other camps.
The written instructions for the dance made their way back home in 1941 where the wife of one of the devisers began distributing it as a Red Cross fundraiser.
The legend began to grow, the dance appeared in London and went global.
Why is it popular? Many formations in Scottish dance can be traced back to exercises used to train Celtic warriors: this dance was written by soldiers for soldiers. Yet it is a dance which has its' own identity and reflects the belief in the future held by those who created it. That zest for life is why it is still popular today.
Lt. Jimmy Atkinson passed away in January 1997.
This account is based on an article written by Neil Griffith, "Reel of the 51st"; thanks to Billy for sourcing the article.
This page was last updated on: 22nd January 2019